German Village of 102 Braces for 750 Asylum Seekers

Andrew Higgins, New York Times, November 1, 2015

This bucolic, one-street settlement of handsome redbrick farmhouses may for the moment have many more cows than people, but next week it will become one of the fastest growing places in Europe. Not that anyone in Sumte is very excited about it.

In early October, the district government informed Sumte’s mayor, Christian Fabel, by email that his village of 102 people just over the border in what was once Communist East Germany would take in 1,000 asylum seekers.

His wife, the mayor said, assured him it must be a hoax. “It certainly can’t be true” that such a small, isolated place would be asked to accommodate nearly 10 times as many migrants as it had residents, she told him. “She thought it was a joke,” he said.

But it was not. {snip}

In a small concession to the villagers, Alexander Götz, a regional official from Lower Saxony, told them this week that the initial number of refugees, who start arriving on Monday and will be housed in empty office buildings, would be kept to 500, and limited to 750 in all.

Nevertheless, the influx is testing the limits of tolerance and hospitality in Sumte, and across Germany. It is also straining German politics broadly, creating deep divisions in the conservative camp of Chancellor Angela Merkel and energizing a constellation of extremist groups that feel their time has come.

{snip}

Sumte has no shops, no police station, no school. The initial number of arrivals was, in fact, reduced to avoid straining the local sewage system and give time for new pumps to be installed.

“We have zero infrastructure here for so many people,” Mr. Fabel, the mayor, said.

As the federal government desperately scrambles to find shelter for the refugees before winter sets in, it is assigning quotas to each of Germany’s 16 Länder, or states, based on factors like economic strength and population.

Initially, the migrants were housed in renovated homes, then in gymnasiums, military bases and old schools, but as obvious shelters run out, the authorities are hunting for any free space they can find, like the 23 empty office buildings in Sumte.

{snip}

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